Locked into second place in the Central for weeks, and almost as cemented into a first-round meeting with the Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice went to the bullpen Tuesday night in Montreal.
He didn’t dress starter Connor Hellebuyck, and none of healthy skaters Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Adam Lowry, Jacob Trouba or Josh Morrissey were in the Jets lineup at the Bell Centre in Montreal. In game No. 80 of Winnipeg’s season, Maurice had enough NHLers in his lineup to satisfy the preseason regulations, but a lot less than he’ll have when the Jets open up against Minny next week.
So, how do you find some takeaways after watching a Jets team that dressed 60 percent of its lineup? Watch us:
Even missing six key regulars the Jets were able to overcome Montreal by a 5-4 score in overtime. The Canadiens had one thing to play for: Give goaltender Carey Price a victory in the game that pushed him past Jacques Plante and into the top spot in games played (557) as a Montreal Canadiens keeper.
Unfortunately, there has been too much time lost to injury this season for Price. He has run out of runway when it comes to finding his game, and will simply have to wait for a fresh start in October to prove he can be the goalie we know him to be.
Patrik Laine blasted the game’s first goal past Price, a metaphor for an NHL that seems to become a young man’s league more and more each day. Price had no prayer on the blast, and Laine collected goal No. 44 to move within two goals of league leader Alex Ovechkin with two games to play.
Can the 19-year-old Finn catch the 32-year-old Russian? It might be the only reason Maurice refuses to sit Laine for either of the Jets final two tilts.
Jets win 50
For the first time in franchise history — and we are talking the Atlanta-Winnipeg franchise AND the Winnipeg-Arizona franchise, two different teams — the Winnipeg Jets have won 50 games. To put that into perspective, the Toronto Maple Leafs have never won 50 games in franchise history.
The Jets are a legit, elite team and will be for a long while. They’ll wake up this morning with Boston and Tampa for the second most points in the NHL at 110.
How about going 9-1 in their past 10 games? Or improving their goal differential from minus-7 last season to plus-55 this year?
They won Tuesday with two-thirds of a team. We figure the full club will be too much for the Wild to handle starting next week.
Glad to Niku
Speaking of metaphors, how about 21-year-old Finn Sami Niku? As if we need more evidence that the Jets are one of the best draft-and-develop teams in the NHL, Winnipeg trots out this long-haired, seventh-round draft pick from Haapavesi, Finland, and he scores a goal on his first ever NHL shot on goal.
Niku just came over from Finland to the AHL this season. After going 198th overall in 2015 — that’s 14 spots ahead of dead last in the draft — Niku walks into the hallowed Bell Centre for his first NHL game and looked absolutely comfortable — even seeing a shift in overtime, where he almost fired home the winner.
Back Up Lights
The bad news: If Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff knew how well Connor Hellebuyck was going to play this season, he probably wouldn’t have signed goalie Steve Mason to that two-year, $8.2 million contract last summer.
The good news? With 476 NHL games under his belt, the Jets have as competent a backup goalie as any playoff team this spring, and you never know when that will come in handy down the playoff road.
Mason was very good Tuesday, despite letting in four. The Penguins used two goalies to win the last two Cups, and the Jets have an equally capable pair. We bet Mason gets one of the Jets final two home games this week.
Barring a scoring explosion by Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat, Winnipeg’s Kyle Connor will win the Pocket Rocket Award as the NHL’s leading rookie goal scorer. His 30th was the OT winner Tuesday, Connor’s sixth game winner of the season.
We’re afraid the Calder Trophy is already being shipped to Mathew Barzal’s home, but Connor has made his way onto the ballot. Ho hum, just another elite 21-year-old Jet.
Seems like they grow on trees, doesn’t it?